MYLES BERKOWITZ IS A BORN SALES- man, but he's had a difficult product to sell: himself. After more than a decade dreaming of "making it" in Hollywood, and one nasty divorce, he considers his career and his love life to be his two greatest failures. In an all-or-nothing effort, he decided to bet it all on 20 Dates, a movie that would follow him as he looked for love on 20 dates.

Berkowitz was first able to sell the idea to producer Elie Samaha, who fronted the $60,000 for the shooting budget, and who wrongly believed there would be a lot of sex and nudity which he could easily sell to the European market. Once the finished movie was accepted to Slamdance, Berkowitz started working on the "buzz" by greasing the palms of cab drivers and waiters so they might mention his film to the visiting "industry" people, meanwhile buying out half the tickets and giving them away to locals, so people would notice the sales and try to get into "sold out" screenings. It worked. Fox Searchlight picked up the film. Now his salesmanship moves into the final chapter: the press tour to help sell the movie. If 20 Dates succeeds, then Myles Berkowitz will be able to sell more projects and become the Hollywood player he always dreamed of being.

I like salesmen. I like them in the same way that I like magicians; they're both selling dreams. I find fascinating their ability to distract an audience's attention to what they want you to see. In 20 Dates, Berkowitz is selling the idea that he's a regular guy going on dates and looking for love, when he's really a self-involved guy who's desperate to make and star in a movie.

Sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons, I finally got him to admit, "At the beginning of this project, I was more interested in making a movie, and my perception was that I was going to make a mean little vicious comedy about dating." Throughout the interview, he bragged that the only person who looks bad in the movie is him, and that he "didn't have the footage to prove otherwise." True enough. Heck, two of the women he filmed on hidden camera dates even ended up suing him. Above all, though, his stated goal was to make an entertaining comedy (not a documentary, mind you) that spoke the "truth" about dating.

So halfway through shooting, he meets this beautiful woman, Elisabeth, with whom he starts to fall in love. She's nowhere near date #20. What's an up and coming filmmaker to do? Abandon the project in favor of the girl? Change the concept? Well, no. He starts dating Elisabeth, but also goes out on dates with other women to finish the movie. He constantly told me how you can see the change in him around Elisabeth, how he's more polite around her, but I told him I didn't really see it. I only saw her make compromises, while he kept making the film. He responded, "Look, I did make some compromises when I started going out with her. That's not funny, okay? So that's not in the movie. What we were trying to say is that, yeah, I'm still a bit of a jerk [laughs], but clearly, I was being sensitive to her, and as capable of sensitivity as I could be."

My favorite thing about this movie is its blatant manipulation of the audience. Right away, we see Berkowitz trying to talk his way into studio after studio, before reciting a scripted monologue in front of the Hollywood sign. I asked him what he would have done if somebody let him in. He told me, "We don't show the footage! This is another reason why it's not a documentary. To me, a documentary is, you set up a camera and you capture the real life that's happening, and you don't get involved. Clearly, I'm much more provocative than that. This is closer to David Letterman, going out into the world and pulling stunts on people. You get reactions that are real, which I think are funnier and more interesting, but he's not making a documentary. We took some creative license with the editing because a couple of studios I did get in, and if we did show that, those people would have been fired [laughs]. So I wasn't out to hurt anyone except myself."

Though most of the film feels like it's being played up for the cameras, there is one nice moment when he and Elisabeth hold hands. It's played like a big deal, it is a big deal on any first date, and it turns out to be the only really honest moment in the film. The rest is impressively slick salesmanship. According to Berkowitz, "If this movie comes out and it doesn't do well, and I don't have another chance to make a movie at all? That'll be okay, because I got the girl. That's a change in me, and in my life, because I really mean that. I can move on. At the beginning of this movie, I couldn't, and that's why I made it." Do you believe him?

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